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College Students Face Tuition Increases

<bt>Twenty-year-old Blake Abel is not too worried about paying another $5 for each credit he takes next year at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA), a 9 percent increase attributed to an anticipated cut in state funding.

"It's not that huge of an increase that would keep me from school," said the sophomore, a liberal arts major who plans to spend one more semester at the Loudoun County campus before transferring to George Mason University (GMU) where tuition and fees are expected to increase 16 percent.

NOVA increased the costs for in-state and out-of-state students by 9 percent. The increase pushes the cost for in-state students to $44.29 per credit from $39.45, while the out-of-state cost will be $190.22 per credit instead of $173.33.

"For us, that really isn't a significant increase, but it is an increase," said Anthony Tardd, provost at the Loudoun County NOVA campus, located in Sterling.

Sophomore Natalie Hyman agreed. "That's all right. It's not a big deal. It's only $5," said the interior design major.

Comparatively, tuition and fees at GMU increased from $158 to $172 per credit hour for in-state students and from $529 to $571 for out-of-state students. The increase for both schools helps accommodate an anticipated $291 million cut in state funding for post-secondary institutions. Colleges and universities statewide are responding with cost increases and cuts to facilities and programs.

"A lot of the institutions, if not all, are trying not to have layoffs," said Paul Nardo, communications director for the Virginia State Council of Higher Education.

Fran Bradford, also of the council, said a majority of the institutions are offsetting the cuts by raising tuition and fees to generate $220 million.

"Other institutions and these same institutions are reducing some class offerings, slowing down some projects and making programmatic changes ... where that institution feels like it has the flexibility to make those changes," said Bradford, government relations coordinator for the Council of Higher Education.

AFTER THE VETO SESSION, NOVA will determine what cuts, if any, to make, Tardd said. "Certainly, we don't want to have to cut programs," he said, adding NOVA may end up cutting programs with minimal student enrollments or increasing the average class size of 25 students to 27 to 30 students.

"What I do know is there will be some students who will be impacted by this," Tardd said. "Because we are such a good bargain, I don't think the numbers will fall off significantly. But we don't know that, because we won't see the people who might come here who have been priced out."

NOVA's enrollment at the Loudoun campus averages about 7,300 students per year. In fall 2001, nearly 4,600 students were enrolled in classes, compared to 4,200 students in spring 2002. NOVA's five campuses in Loudoun, Alexandria, Annandale, Manassas and Woodbridge and the distance learning institute have 62,000 students this school year.

"In the big picture, we are growing very fast," said Alison Baker, dean of finance and administration at the Loudoun NOVA. "We added over a 1,000 students this year, and we'll probably grow by 1,000 next year. We have to teach those students with the same or somewhat less [in] resources."

IN JANUARY, the state reduced NOVA's funding by $2.45 million, cutting 3 percent from $92 million in state funds for all NOVA campuses. NOVA's budget before the cuts was $110 million, with the remaining $18 million coming from tuition and fees and from continuing education charges. NOVA's budget a year ago was $104 million.

"We have been planning for the possibility that our budgets might not increase significantly," Tardd said.

NOVA is one of 23 community colleges and 36 campuses operating under the Virginia Community College System (VCCS). The VCCS will distribute state funds to each of the colleges based on enrollment, growth and other variables.

"They are not going to let us know until after the government veto session," Baker said, adding that she hopes to find out the amount of the cut in two weeks.

The cut does not directly affect private schools such as George Washington University (GWU), which has a campus in Ashburn. The college is applying for tag grant funds to provide state reimbursements to students for attending private colleges, but the funds could decrease with the cuts.

"It might make us a little more competitive," said Helen Ryan, director of corporate and community relations at the Ashburn campus. "If tuition rates for public schools increase, then private schools like GWU might become more attractive as an option for students."

"Virginia is not the only state dealing with this," said Bradford, adding that 34 states are experiencing reductions to their state budgets. "It certainly is a national phenomenon."